Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Unsexy SEO Tool - Bounce Rate

I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of online research and media monitoring on company web sites, blogs, online newspapers, product sites, etc. I Google everything - it's become my bible of search.

Many of these sites have spent a fortune so they are on those first 2-3 pages when you type in a search term that is part of their business. But what most SEO firms don’t like to talk about is what happens when the potential customer gets there and can’t find what they are looking for? Simple: You’ve blown that referral.

What does Bounce rate mean? It measures the number of people who came to your site and never made it past the home page. Or as Google puts it “I came; I puked; I left." Bounce rate tells you how many of the people who came to your site weren’t impressed with what they found. No second click.

And yes, I'm reworking my site right now to fix that. It's only been up for two years and is already totally outdated when it comes to bounce rate. And it doesn't search well either although my name does.

Bounce rate is hard to misunderstand because the higher it is, the less effective your web site, blog, etc. is. Of course there will always be a small bounce rate but the bigger it is the less successful you are in exciting and engaging people in your site. That’s pretty straight forward.

Gord Hotchkiss of Enquiro, a search engine marketing firm, said in an article that he likes to look at the differences in how people of different ages, gender, etc. react when they get to a page.

He pointed out two distinctive difference, and said there are many others.

1. How males scan a page versus females
2. How those who grew up online and those who didn’t search web sites.

For more from this very bright guy who knows a lot more about search than I do go too

How can you learn more about the way potential customers and other visitors use your site? Start looking at the details of where your visitors are coming from. In Google Analytics, check out your referring sites. Then visit them and find the source of how they are presenting your web site and the information it delivers.

One client of mine tracks referring sites like he is mining gold, and in a way he is. Remember when PR wasn’t measurable? Aren't we old timers? He can now look at the stories, mentions, etc. run about his company and see how much traffic it drove to his web site and how long it stayed. And we can make decisions on where we want to place stories based on the referral sites.

Looking at sources can tell you a lot about how major traditional and newer media pull traffic to your web site and blog. For instance media outreach for one client has found that:

A New York Times article is still pulling in traffic months later

Consumer finance web sites like The Consumerist and WalletPop drive huge traffic but only for a short time.

Reddit is a great traffic builder and it has staying power.

CNN Money is site people go back to time and time again for advice.

A Health Day article that got picked up by thousands of web sites didn’t drive that much traffic to the site and we're still not sure why.

I close with Bounce Rate Matters - Make it a Mantra.


  1. This comment from Phillippa Gamsa who is a social media strategist came from ASAE on LinkedIn - she makes good points.

    A couple of caveats to your point (which is otherwise excellent):

    Depending on the analytics program that you have, a one-page *successful* visit will be counted as a bounce, and zero time spent on site. Possible examples:

    - a visitor looking for your contact details, easily finds them, goes away. Unless you're salivating that they should have done other things, that's an OK outcome.
    - a visitor who comes and reads your blog, possibly subscribes to it, but doesn't go anywhere else. Again, unless you wish they had, that's not a bad visit, but it looks like one.

    I especially see this with blogs - because the tools have no way of measuring time spent on the page unless you click to a second page (Google Analytics doesn't do exit clicks) it looks like no one spends any time there, which patently can't be true.

    So as with anything else, try to put your bounce rate for each page into context before you panic ;-)